Thursday, July 04, 2013

Austerity Kills

In their book, The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu demonstrate that, around the world, austerity has had devastating consequences on public health. Consider what economic shock therapy accomplished in the Soviet Union:

The Soviet economy collapsed in the early 1990s, erasing countless jobs. Ironically, those still working in public health kept good records of the disaster. Stuckler and Basu studied death certificates and found that "The rate of death rose by a disconcerting 90 per cent among the subgroup of men aged twenty-five to thirty-nine, in the prime of their lives."

The statistics showed that they died, in effect, from stress -- expressed in "alcohol poisonings, suicides, homicides, and injuries." And heart attacks. 

On the other hand, consider the case of Iceland:

Having hosted an offshore-banking industry that imploded, the country experienced some noisy demonstrations that forced the government to hold a referendum: Should Icelanders pay to honour the debts of their bankers, or not?

The answer was no, much to the alarm of the EU. But the Icelanders toughed out the recession without sacrificing too many jobs or social support programs. Stuckler and Basu followed the Icelandic health records: death rates kept falling, and heart-attack rates were unchanged. So were rates of depression. People were working and earning less, but self-reported as feeling pretty good. 

Or consider what has happened in Britain:

Britain coped fairly well under Gordon Brown's Labour government in the early years of the Great Recession, but David Cameron's Tory-LibDem coalition has caused a public-health disaster.

The evidence -- when people pay attention to it -- is clear:

The real key to economic growth is not to cut social programs, but to boost them. Every dollar spent on healthcare and education actually generates three dollars in the economy. And why not? A healthy, educated, economically secure population will ride out recessions in far better shape than one trying to cope with joblessness, depression, and alcohol.

In the end, Stuckler and Basu write:

Had the austerity experiments been governed by the same rigorous standards as clinical trials, they would have been discontinued long ago by a board of medical ethics. … Instead of austerity, we should enact evidence-based policies to protect health during hard times. … Ultimately austerity has failed because it is unsupported by sound logic or data. It is an economic ideology. It stems from the belief that small government and free markets are always better than state intervention.

Their conclusion is worth remembering when Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty  tell us that their economic program is good for what ails us.


Lorne said...

The evidence -- when people pay attention to it -- is clear. That sentence, Owen, pretty much sums up our problem. We just don't pay attention, allowing our thinking to be determined by mainstream media that, by and large, offers little to contradict the conventional wisdom that austerity is necessary medicine to cure what ails us.

Owen Gray said...

It's remarkable how immune we've become to evidence, Lorne. On the economy, on the environment -- we live in a constant state of denial.

Anonymous said...

I had heard of this evidence from the opposition, when it was clear that the Harpercons were going to go out of their way to spend money, in order to punish the low and middle income people--and THAT defies logic. They actually go above and beyond the pale to be mean-spirited. Sickening--on every level.

Owen Gray said...

Several years ago, Linda, I was called for jury duty. When it was established that I was a teacher, the defense objected immediately.

Later, I was told that teachers were assumed to have a "punishment mentality." I thought that assumption was unfair.

But with regard to the Harperites, it seems to me that all the evidence bears out that assumption.

Anonymous said...

I love teachers--they have an 'enlightenment mentality' for the most part. Teach ON!

Owen Gray said...

I'm a retired teacher, Linda. But thanks for the vote of confidence in the profession.

We're really not such a bad lot.

Anonymous said...

I think you're still teaching, Owen : )

Owen Gray said...

Well, Linda, this old English teacher is now reading his own stuff, instead of correcting other people's stuff.

Actually, that's not quite true. Most days, my wife acts as my proof reader. When I make an error, it's because she hasn't seen the post.

Anonymous said...

re the "punishment mentality"..if you were a Conservative or a prison gaurd, I would assume that, of you!

Owen Gray said...

There's a puritanical streak in these folks, Linda. They believe that punishment is good for the soul.

Anonymous said...

I believe in restorative justice-- with Wisdom, Mercy and Love. What does punishment do for society, but fulfill the vigilantes' need for vengeance?

Owen Gray said...

You'll notice that the word "justice" does not appear often in Harper communications.

There are occasional references to the Ministry of Justice. But, to my knowledge, justice is not a stated objective of this government.

e.a.f. said...

Austerity is good for the public, so the right wingers and 1%ers like to tell us. If it were so good, why don't the 1%ers take to it the way the enforce it and force it down the throats of those least able to deal with it.

If austerity is so good why doesn't Cameron, Harper, and their fellow travellers live on the average wage of their country, take a bus to work, and get in line with the rest of us for health care. Because it doesn't work.

They want to look out for themselves and to hell with the rest of the population. As long as their political supporters give them the money, they want to keep it that way. Life is good if you are a 1%er or one of their corporately owned politicians.

The Icelanders were the smart ones. Argentine did the same thing back in the 80s. If more countries put their citizens first and corporate banks last, the world might be a better place for children to grow up in.

Owen Gray said...

It's an old story, e.a.f. I'm sure you've heard the title before. It's called, "Do As I Say, No As I Do."